America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures


Contrary to theories of single person authorship, America's Corporate Art argues that the corporate studio is the author of Hollywood motion pictures, both during the classical era of the studio system and beyond, when studios became players in global dramas staged by massive entertainment conglomerates. Hollywood movies are examples of a commodity that, until the digital age, was rare: a self-advertising artifact that markets the studio's brand in the very act of consumption.

The book covers the history of corporate authorship through the antithetical visions of two of the most dominant Hollywood studios, Warner Bros. and MGM. During the classical era, these studios promoted their brands as competing social visions in strategically significant pictures such as MGM's Singin' in the Rain and Warner's The Fountainhead. Christensen follows the studios' divergent fates as MGM declined into a valuable and portable logo, while Warner Bros. employed Batman, JFK, and You've Got Mail to seal deals that made it the biggest entertainment corporation in the world. The book concludes with an analysis of the Disney-Pixar merger and the first two Toy Story movies in light of the recent judicial extension of constitutional rights of the corporate person.


Man keeps on calling new things by old names—the work of the
machine is manufacture; the contract of employment concerns
masters and servants; the corporation, a device by which a group gets
things done, is still a person.

Walton H. Hamilton, “Our Social Responsibilities”

i. Corporate Art, Studio Allegory, Corporate Identity

Midway through Fortunes profile of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1932—the first in the career of that primer on making and spending to be devoted to a Hollywood motion picture studio—the half-flattering, half-mocking tone of its analysis of the studio’s history, structure, and personality shifts to a different key, as the article boldly heralds the advent of a new art form:

MGM is neither one man nor a collection of men. It is a corporation. Whenever
a motion picture becomes a work of art it is unquestionably due to men. But the
moving pictures have been born and bred not of men but of corporations. Corpo
rations have set up the easels, bought the pigments, arranged the views, and hired
the potential artists. Until the artists emerge, at least, the corporation is bigger
than the sum of its parts. Somehow, although our poets have not yet defined it for
us, a corporation lives a life and finds a fate outside the lives and fates of its human

Poets had not yet defined the fateful life of the corporation, but, as the writers of Fortune well knew, the Supreme Court had done its best. Since the landmark Santa Clara case of 1886, which nonchalantly declared the corporation to be a person, a series of judicial decisions had generously invoked the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to expand the life of the corporation outside the lives and fates of its human constituents and to ensure the right of this prodigy of industrial capitalism to pursue profit undistracted by the threat of government intervention. In the trough of the Great Depression, Fortune decided to promote the potential of the Hollywood motion picture studio to exercise cultural leadership at a time when such leadership seemed crucial to the future of capitalism. For Fortune, the condition for the emergence of cinematic works of art, and therefore for faith in the future of a capitalist system capable of transcending merely commercial concerns, was not money or technology or even individual genius, but the corporate organization of the . . .

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